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The Kashmir earthquake has brought together the people of Pakistan, together with the sympathies of the world. It is a tragedy to lose even a single soul but, given the enormous reality of the event, the humanitarian response by individuals, governments and community groups has been as good as could reasonably be expected. Rescue of earthquake victims from twisted concrete is always a race against time, and the clock has run out.

The next challenge is the stabilization of the injured, the homeless and the orphaned. Our hopes and prayers are with the victims and all those trying to help them in this stabilization effort. The Pakistani media played a good role in raising awareness and bringing the people together, even adopting villages for rehabilitation. Hopefully, it will continue to raise awareness during the rebuilding effort.

This rebuilding effort can be optimized by a unique public-private initiative. Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA), has been created for this purpose and Lt. Gen. Muhammad Zubair, who was due to retire in November 2005, has been appointed to lead it. There is a one-time opportunity for this organization to do much more than just rehabilitate the area devastated by the earthquake. It can rehabilitate the self-esteem of the entire country by doing a good job in the devastated areas.

Calamities are forces of nature that cause death injury and destruction, but at the same time the sheer enormity of events galvanizes a nation. Pakistan was long overdue for the advent of such unity of purpose. From another angle, Pakistanis desperately need the self-confidence that comes from doing something right. Rarely is a nation so blessed by resources, idealism and a sense of destiny, but so devoid of self-respect and rule of law.

By re-constructing model cities with laws that are followed and enforced justly, Pakistan has a unique opportunity to do something right and spark the self-confidence that is so needed. Building laws, logging laws, road laws, trade laws, emergency depots and laws etc. are all needed.

Seismic activity in the Himalayan foothills will not cease for millions of years to come. We have an opportunity now to either make a lasting example of “can-do” attitude and set the nation on an upward spiral, or do more of the same and become even more demoralized when the earth shakes again, as it inevitably will.

How?

Restoration should begin with economic activity and that requires good communications infrastructure. By giving incentives to companies who set up shop in the towns of Kashmir, jobs and economic activity will create the engine that can rehabilitate the region in months, instead of years. Cities and towns have souls and the revival of their spirit is necessary for any physical and material revival. For example, New Orleans has declared that Mardi Gras will take place in February 2006, no matter how it has to be organized. It is good thinking for that city, for otherwise it may be doomed.

Reviving the rule of law and re-developing cultural landmarks will be a start. Well-constructed buildings and modern building materials should follow, together with communications and business infrastructure. The recovery of Kashmir, if done the right way, will provide a long-needed confidence boost for the nation.

Let’s go out there and do the best job that humans possibly can! Like the planned city of Islamabad was a successful experiment, there is a chance here to plan another part of the country and sow the seeds of the revival of the whole country.